Let’s suppose for just a second that the story of Cinderella had taken a slightly different turn. After a few days of scrubbing floors, cleaning out fireplaces and suffering other assorted abuses at the hands of her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters, Cinderella cracks mom upside the head with the mop bucket and chases the sisters off with a garden rake.
“I’m tired of waiting for some old lady and her pixie dust!” she screams. “I’m taking over this place myself!”
It would’ve made for a much shorter story, and we would’ve been deprived of the drama that comes with a pumpkin-mobile, a handsome prince and a glass slipper to deliver our heroine from her misery, but it surely would have established our girl as a force to be reckoned with.
Welcome to Butler basketball.
Sure, the Bulldogs come from the unheralded Horizon League, making them a pity case to some, and they’ll never truly shed the label of “mid-major” based on enrollment figures; but when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, these guys don’t rely on magic, and they certainly don’t need to be rescued.
Truth is, if a metaphor using a fabled female character must be used to describe the upstart Bulldogs as they crash their way into their second straight national championship game, then let’s just say Butler is much less Cinderella and much more Xena: Warrior Princess.
Honestly, is there anyone who watches tonight’s matchup between Butler and UConn who would actually claim shock and awe if the Bulldogs are able to take that final step into NCAA history? Sure, the Huskies will have the best player on the floor, and probably the country, in Kemba Walker, and they did emerge from the highly regarded Big East on a roll of historic proportions of their own, but can anyone state with confidence Jim Calhoun’s club is significantly better than Brad Stevens’? Even after watching Butler come within a shot of taking Duke in last season’s final?
UConn is a tremendously talented team, and starting three freshmen and a sophomore, Calhoun has done a remarkable job bringing his kids along at just the right pace to have them peaking at tournament time. It would be no surprise whatsoever if Walker, averaging 25 points per game in the tournament, capped an extraordinary junior season with a national championship.
It would be wrong, however, to declare a Butler victory as some sort of mystical miracle in which an unheralded group of rag-tag, undermanned Davids took a slingshot to the forehead of Calhoun’s Goliaths.
If you haven’t noticed that senior forward Matt Howard and junior guard Shelvin Mack are two of the best players in the tournament, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention; not because they haven’t done enough to command it.
Mack hung 30 on top-seeded Pittsburgh, had 27 in the Elite Eight win over Florida, and then 24 more in the Final Four win over VCU. Howard has led the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding all season, and has outplayed bigger names from better conferences for the duration of the tournament.
In other words, coach Stevens hasn’t exactly had to turn mice into horses to ride into his second straight title game.
Save the rescued princess story for someone else — it does not apply here. Butler is just a great basketball team, and they’ll be one again tonight. Even after the clock strikes midnight.
Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.
E-mail him at email@example.com.